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Ghislaine Maxwell sexually propositioned a teenage Petronella Wyatt

The phone rang one afternoon. It was the 1990s and the caller was an assistant of Ghislaine Maxwell, who, while not a friend, was an acquaintance of mine. Ghislaine, I was told, wanted to know if I would have dinner in a London restaurant with Donald Trump.

Not keen to end up on the menu myself, I asked who else would be present. ‘You and a few other girls.’

This was the second time I had been importuned by Ms Maxwell. Not long before, Ghislaine had invited a friend and me to Bill Clinton’s hotel suite. The former U.S. President had been visiting England solo and lacked female company.

I turned down both invitations, but to say I was surprised would be inaccurate.

Of all the women I have known, Ghislaine Maxwell was the most sexually brazen. And as a new Netflix documentary about her downfall reveals, her appetite knew no bounds.

I had first met Ghislaine in a fashionable Italian restaurant in Knightsbridge in the 1980s. She was six years older than me (I was 17 at the time), and was holding court to a group of people.

Of all the women I have known, Ghislaine Maxwell was the most sexually brazen. And as a new Netflix documentary about her downfall reveals, her appetite knew no bounds

I was eating spaghetti in an alcove, when one of the men at her table, who knew me, waved in my direction.

He effected an introduction to Ghislaine, who said: ‘Oh, I’ve heard about you.’ Her eyes flicked up and down my figure with a look that was appraising and complimentary.

She reached out and touched my hand, and it was as if a transference of power had occurred. I felt strangely compelled to please her, for there was something dark in her magic.

After a moment, Ghislaine turned to the man on her left. She began licking his ear lobe. I wondered if this was for my benefit. At any rate, this strange public exhibitionism gave me an opportunity to examine her in turn.

She was attractive in a European way: tanned, tall and athletic. She was dressed in a short skirt and a padded jacket of the sort that was popular in the 1980s. Her dark hair was parted in the middle and cut in waves, resembling the wings of a bird. Her scent was musky and strangely masculine.

At that time, in what was called London ‘society’, it was impossible not to be aware of Ghislaine. The adored and adoring daughter of media tycoon Robert Maxwell, and an Oxford graduate, she was the undisputed toast of the town — she who must be obeyed.

I had first met Ghislaine in a fashionable Italian restaurant in Knightsbridge in the 1980s. Pictured: Petronella Wyatt

I had first met Ghislaine in a fashionable Italian restaurant in Knightsbridge in the 1980s. Pictured: Petronella Wyatt

She was invited to all the best parties, and had started a club called the Kit Kat, which was for It Girls with intellect. She appeared regularly in the gossip columns, and at fashionable nightclubs such as Tramp and Annabel’s.

Now, of course, her name is a byword for evil, after she was convicted of sex-trafficking under-age girls to her former boyfriend Jeffrey Epstein and an assortment of powerful men. She is serving a 20-year sentence and will be in her late 70s when she is released.

Ghislaine has no moral compass 

For Ghislaine Maxwell, this is not how her story should have ended. But looking back on my encounters with her, which I recount in the new documentary Ghislaine Maxwell: Filthy Rich, there were staging posts on the way to her sordid denouement.

‘You’re told that predators are old men in alleys,’ begins the series trailer. ‘You’re not told that a friend, a socialite, a woman can be a predator, too.’ How true.

A year after our first meeting, I saw her again, at a summer party given by a mutual acquaintance. ‘Have you ever had lesbian sex?’ she asked me with a casualness that people use when they talk about the weather.

She liked to shock, and I wondered if it was a serious question, or whether she was teasing me.

Her dark eyes regarded me with speculation. ‘Do you? Because if you do, I’m having a party next week.’

Ghislaine had numerous boyfriends, yet her allure was androgynous. Did she prefer women to men? On reflection, I think probably not, but I was reluctant to find out.

Her smiles seemed to be shadowed. Yet, because of the imperious stamp of her countenance, it took me a while to find the courage to refuse. When I did so, she shrugged, and turned her attention to a well-known publisher.

After that, I met her quite often, at dinners, book launches and nightclubs. Her vivacity ensured there was always a crowd around her. She had no shyness and seemed permanently self-assured. At a party given by a tycoon, she tried to persuade me to sing. As I attempted to repair to a place of anonymous safety, she made a public announcement about my ‘impending performance’.

There was nothing for it but to rush from the house like a deer fleeing a hunter.

She was invited to all the best parties, and had started a club called the Kit Kat, which was for It Girls with intellect. Left to right: Donald Trump, his wife Melania Knauss, Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell

She was invited to all the best parties, and had started a club called the Kit Kat, which was for It Girls with intellect. Left to right: Donald Trump, his wife Melania Knauss, Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell

Like her father, much about Ghislaine masked something predatory, as I was to discover almost a decade later.

This time the setting was New York, where she had relocated after her father’s death. It was one of those cocktail parties where everyone pretends to like each other. Ghislaine had changed. Her hair had been cut in a harsh crop and her teeth had been whitened.

She had lost some of her natural vitality and appeared to be playing a part. I had heard she was going out with a rich financier called Jeffrey Epstein. She had always had a terror of being simply comfortably off. It was too close to penury.

After the moment of mutual recognition, she laughed a little too loudly. I asked how she was, but she didn’t reply. Instead, she encircled my wrist and ran her fingers over it in peculiar movements.

‘What are you doing?’ I asked nervously.

‘Showing you how to perform oral sex.’

‘Why?’ I asked stupidly.

She raised her eyebrows. ‘Don’t you want to please men?’ she responded, as if this was a viable career.

‘I wonder if my friend Jeffrey would like you?’ she added, almost to herself. Then her face broke into a grin: ‘No, you’re a bit too old.’ As I was only 28 at the time, this was both a relief and an insult.

I turned away, and as I did so, some of the younger girls present came forward to take advantage of Ghislaine’s sexual masterclass.

It occurred to me that it was an odd thing to be doing at a smart Manhattan drinks party. But Ghislaine always seemed to be recruiting women to her court, or attempting to, and never brooked restraints on her behaviour.

In that sense, she was very like her father. Indeed, if anyone was her first accomplice, it was him.

I knew Robert Maxwell, having met him around the time I had been introduced to Ghislaine. My father, the politician and writer Woodrow Wyatt, had invited him to a dinner party at our home. Maxwell was then the owner of Mirror Group Newspapers and rarely out of the headlines.

The adored and adoring daughter of media tycoon Robert Maxwell, and an Oxford graduate, she was the undisputed toast of the town — she who must be obeyed. Pictured: Ghislaine and her father

The adored and adoring daughter of media tycoon Robert Maxwell, and an Oxford graduate, she was the undisputed toast of the town — she who must be obeyed. Pictured: Ghislaine and her father

My mother, who was Hungarian, had wanted to meet him because he had been born in a part of Czechoslovakia that had once belonged to Hungary.

A very tall, obese man, Maxwell had rheumy eyes, florid skin and features that might once have been handsome.

Maxwell was evidently trying to look and act like an English gentleman, but failing. His dress was too ostentatious. His enormous feet were squashed into monogrammed velvet shoes.

It was a cold night, but he was sweating hard. He bent over to kiss my hand, sucking on my knuckles as if he was drawing venom from a snakebite. Then he turned to my mother and said: ‘What a pretty daughter you have.’

‘I have a beautiful daughter, too,’ he added, puffing up. ‘She is just like me.’

Ghislaine spoke frequently of her father, and very reverentially, as though he had the combined qualities of Socrates, Cary Grant and Jesus Christ. This was at a time when his star was starting to wane. I often wondered whether her almost pathological desire to please men stemmed from her hero-worship of him.

I think it was his death that sent Ghislaine on a headlong rush towards a man like Epstein.

It was in November 1991 that I read about the disgraced tycoon’s demise. His body had been found in the Canary Islands, floating near the yacht he had named after his favourite child, the Lady Ghislaine. By that time, everyone knew he had stolen from the Mirror Group pension fund. Most of us assumed his death was an accident — his heart was bad — or that he had committed suicide.

Ghislaine, however, was convinced he had been murdered.

I wonder if my friend Jeffrey would like you? 

I don’t believe she could accept that the man she adored was a common thief who had died a sad but unglamorous death, his reputation gone along with most of his money.

Yet her love for her father seemed perverse. After his death, people began to talk to me about how badly he had treated all his children, including Ghislaine. As we now know, he had an ungovernable temper and had abused her both verbally and physically.

‘Maxwell terrorised his wife and all the kids,’ I was told. ‘Ghislaine was the only one who knew how to get around him, but even so, she still got the butt of his ferocious rages.’

With hindsight, it is instructive to note that he also encouraged his daughter to belittle members of her own sex. Implacable in his belief that women were mere vessels for male pleasure, he once bemoaned to my father: ‘I wish my daughter was a boy. Then she could take over the business.’

She had lost some of her natural vitality and appeared to be playing a part. I had heard she was going out with a rich financier called Jeffrey Epstein

She had lost some of her natural vitality and appeared to be playing a part. I had heard she was going out with a rich financier called Jeffrey Epstein

When my father protested that women not only ran businesses but became prime ministers, Maxwell dismissed this as an aberration.

‘No, a woman’s function is to please men. The best thing for Ghislaine would be marriage to a wealthy man.’

Her attachment to Jeffrey Epstein, it is now said, reminded her of Maxwell.

I have my doubts about such pat psychology. She had never looked for father figures, and the attraction between them seemed genuine and equally balanced.

People said Epstein ‘made her feel safe emotionally’. He also financed her lifestyle of designer clothes, private jets and real estate. In return, she opened her contact books and arranged things for him. No one quite knew what these things were, but even then Epstein had a reputation where young women were concerned.

I do not doubt the suffering and misery Ghislaine went on to cause. But it is instructive to remember the social mores of that era. It was pre-woke and pre-MeToo; a sort of cultural cusp. The 1990s were years of constant excess, lavish parties and latent sexism. London was a bacchanal.

The rich gave dances in rented stately homes, hotel ballrooms, even hired fun fairs. There were tables heaving with caviar and chilled champagne. Jazz bands were flown in from New Orleans and opera singers hired for private performances.

And then there were the girls. Blonde and dark, short, leggy and, above all, young girls.

If a teenage model disappeared with a married, middle-aged tycoon, no one asked any questions. Often, you were put next to these men at dinner and spent the evening slapping their hands off your thighs. This sort of behaviour was almost normalised.

But looking back on my encounters with her, which I recount in the new documentary Ghislaine Maxwell: Filthy Rich, there were staging posts on the way to her sordid denouement. Pictured: Ghislaine and Donald Trump

But looking back on my encounters with her, which I recount in the new documentary Ghislaine Maxwell: Filthy Rich, there were staging posts on the way to her sordid denouement. Pictured: Ghislaine and Donald Trump

If well-connected English girls of ‘good breeding’ were considered fair game, poor, anonymous American teenagers were even more so. Given Ghislaine’s background and dubious values, the girls she procured for Epstein would have been regarded by her as privileged.

‘Ghislaine has no self-awareness and no moral compass,’ I once remarked to someone who knew her well. The person concurred: ‘The trouble is, she never thinks she is acting inappropriately.’ This, perhaps, is the sad crux of it all.

I always wondered why Ghislaine Maxwell stayed in the U.S. after her role in procuring young women for Epstein was exposed. Instead of fleeing to Europe, she was arrested by FBI agents in a rented ranch house in New Hampshire. The answer is, she didn’t believe she had done anything wrong.

In her mind, warped by her father, the society in which she lived and her own ambiguous morality, the unfortunate girls she introduced to Epstein were not ‘victims’ at all.

It is telling that the judge who sentenced her said Ghislaine showed no remorse.

Those who are convinced of their innocence never do.

Petronella Wyatt is a consultant on the Netflix documentary Ghislaine Maxwell: Filthy Rich, which is available now.

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